€1bn in cuts hitting patient care, says HSE chief


THE HEALTH service is struggling to meet the demands of patients following the substantial cut in its budget this year, the chief executive of the HSE said yesterday.

Cathal Magee said the executive had nearly €1 billion less to spend this year than in 2010” but the demands on it continued to increase, with 7,000 extra attendances at hospital emergency departments in the first three months of this year alone.

He indicated the moratorium on recruitment was making it difficult to provide high-quality care to patients. Speaking after addressing delegates attending the annual conference of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation in Kilkenny, he said nonetheless that the HSE was constantly working to try and refine it “so we can deal with situations where patient safety or the quality of patient care is at risk”.

Mr Magee said the system was not currently working well enough for the patient, as evidenced by waiting list figures and the number of patients on trolleys in emergency departments each day.

The neglect of primary care had contributed to overcrowding in emergency departments but the new Government planned to move care to the community, he said.

He described the Government’s plan to provide free GP care to all by 2016 as “ambitious”, but said “everyone is supportive of that objective if it can be delivered”.

Asked if he would miss the HSE board after Minister for Health James Reilly prevailed upon its members to resign last week, Mr Magee said the decision was flagged by Dr Reilly as an important initial step in his ambition to implement the programme for government. The board itself and HSE management, he said, fully supported the programme of change which would “shorten decision-making”. He said his role was to co-operate and support the ambition of Government to change the system.

Earlier at the conference the INMO’s deputy general secretary Dave Hughes said he would be proposing the organisation of a “mortgage strike” to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in coming weeks in an attempt to force banks to partially write off home loans for those in negative equity. The write-off would be equal to the amount of negative equity.

“It would be a web-based campaign and it wouldn’t start unless there were 100,000 people signed up to it in the first place,” he said.

Delegates also heard criticism of GPs’ attempts to cut the wages to practice nurses even though they get grants of about €38,000 a year from the State to employ full-time nurses.

An INMO survey found that on average work done by a practice nurse brings in €121,000 a year for GPs.

The conference continues today when delegates will be addressed by the Minister.